If you were passing through Strawberry Square late Tuesday afternoon, you may have been surprised to see the following: several gentlemen in top hats and tails, a big red ribbon and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.
If you had stuck around, you would have learned what connected these very different things.
A crowd had assembled to watch the unveiling of the first portion of a monument that, around this time next year, is slated to be dedicated at N. 4th and Walnut streets in Harrisburg, on the lawn of the Capitol’s Irvis Office Building.
The monument, called “A Gathering at the Crossroads,” commemorates the Old 8th Ward, the densely populated warren of streets and alleys demolished a century ago to vastly enlarge the Capitol Complex. The expansion of Forster Street some 40 years later destroyed the final part of the working-class area, a largely African-American neighborhood that also housed much of the city’s immigrant and Jewish populations.
“The more you hear, the sadder you become,” Fetterman said during his remarks, referring to the destruction of hundreds of buildings and the displacement of thousands of people. “But all you can do is celebrate and promote the efforts to remember.”
Indeed, yesterday’s two-hour ceremony was a celebration, led by local arts activist Lenwood Sloan, who is spearheading the project. It featured speeches, songs and dramatizations by the Harrisburg Past Players, a group that represents figures from local history.
Sloan said that the monument has a dual purpose. While it honors the Old 8th, it also is designed as a tribute to voting rights—specifically, the U.S. Constitution’s 15th and19th amendments, which secured the vote for African Americans and for women, respectively.
Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, making the monument a timely endeavor.
“This project is about vigilance, about being vigilant about the blood, sweat and tears it took to advance these things,” Sloan said.
The statue depicts four figures with strong Harrisburg ties meeting in the Old 8th Ward, conversing and sharing a text of the 15th Amendment. They’re gathered around the “Orator’s Pedestal,” the completed part of the bronze-cast monument unveiled on Tuesday. The pedestal features images from the Old 8th around its four sides, along with a high relief map of a section of the ward at the top (close-up below).
Sloan and his team still must raise about two-thirds of the $360,000 needed for the project, he said.
“The next step is the casting in clay and the molding of the four figures,” he said.
Those life-sized figures are civil rights activist William Howard Day, Harrisburg native, journalist and lawyer Thomas Morris Chester, musician and restaurateur Jacob T. Compton and abolitionist and suffragist Francis Ellen Walker Harper. The third piece of the monument, besides the pedestal and the figures, is the circular landing, meant to mimic cobblestone, on which the figures will stand.
“We’re thrilled to be a part of this,” said Becky Ault, president of Lancaster-based Art Research Enterprises, which is sculpting the monument. “This is so much more than just art. It’s history, it’s social studies, it’s everything.”
Sloan said that much work lies ahead before the planned June 2020 monument unveiling, coinciding with the anniversaries of the 15th and 19th amendments. A large sum of money still must be raised to complete the project. Afterwards, the state legislature must vote to accept the gift.
In the meantime, visitors can drop by Strawberry Square to see the pedestal, which will be on display, along with an explanation of the project, until Labor Day.
“This will not just be a place for pigeons,” Sloan said of the completed monument. “It is about that junction in time through which we make the awareness of the vote.”
To read more about the project, read our March story, Pieces of the Puzzle, and watch our Burg in Focus video, featuring interviews with Lenwood Sloan.
Click here to contribute to the monument project.